The social learning theory is one of many approaches that child development and educational scholars use to explain how children acquire knowledge. Spearheaded by researcher Albert Bandura, this view combines cognitive and behavioral approaches to learning. Although this is a commonly accepted theory, with strengths such as the belief that a child's negative behaviors can change with a change in her environment, it also comes with weaknesses.
Strength: Change in Environment, Change in the Child
One the primary strengths of this theory is its flexibility to explain differences in a child's behavior or learning. The environmental -- or societal -- aspect of social learning theory says that children learn in a social context. This reinforces the idea that when there is a change in the child's environment, the child's behavior may change. For example, a child may have trouble following directions in a relaxed home environment, but have no problems with authority in a stricter school setting.
Weakness: What About Accountability?
With a heavy emphasis on how the child's environment affects him and directs his learning, this theory is weak when it comes to the child's accountability for his own actions. Putting the focus on how setting influences behavior places more weight on the people and community that the child is part of, and not enough weight on how the child handles and processes new information. It neglects the child's accountability and may go too far in stating that society directs how the individual behaves and acts.
Strength: Different Ways of Learning
Even though this theory focuses on gaining knowledge and acquiring behaviors through environmental influences, one of its strengths is that there are multiple modes of learning. Bandura himself noted that individuals can learn through direct experiences or through observation. For example, a child can learn the social norms of polite communication -- such as give and take within a conversation -- by actually talking with others or by watching older children and adults talk to each other.
Weakness: Ignoring Standard Milestones
Unlike stage models of child development, social learning theory doesn't hinge upon a distinct progression of learning and growth that is chronological or age dependent. The view of this theory as neglecting to consider the child's development, across all of the domains, is a potential weakness. Although not every child matures at an identical rate, some of the standard milestones and markers may still occur regardless of the environmental setting.
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